Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage
I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
I am pleased to introduce the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021 for the consideration of this House. The primary objective and focus of the Bill is to amend the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 to facilitate a revised board composition for the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, and, through other necessary operational and technical revisions, to support the functioning of the MCIB as the investigative body in the State in relation to marine casualties, to meet our European and international obligations and to have an independent marine casualty investigative body in place.
Marine accident investigation is an important element of national safety policy going back many years. The Merchant Shipping Act 1894 provided the first legislative framework until it was replaced by the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, which provided for the establishment of the MCIB. In accordance with the Department of Transport’s statement of strategy 2021-2023, the promotion and enhancement of safety is a key objective and priority and underscores many of our policies, strategies and actions. Following on from this, one of the core objectives of the Irish maritime directorate strategy 2021-2025 is to enhance maritime safety. Bearing this in mind, while there is an immediate and urgent need to progress the current Bill, this Bill is not the final step in the process of reviewing the legislative and structural framework that applies to marine casualty investigation in Ireland.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention that an independent review of the organisational structures for marine casualty investigation in this country was initiated in March of this year to be carried out by Clinchmaritime Limited. The key objective of the review was to assess the current organisational structures for marine casualty investigation and to set out in a report any recommendations, including in relation to change, to achieve the most appropriate and effective marine casualty investigation structures for Ireland, taking into account national, EU and international obligations. The review report has been received and is currently being examined. The recommendations contained in the report will be given full consideration with the view to developing a plan of response, which may include the delivery of further legislation and will include further engagement with the Oireachtas committee.
As I will now explain in more detail, this Bill is a necessary intermediary step to amend the existing legislative framework for the MCIB to ensure and support the continued functioning of the investigative body in the immediate term. To assist Deputies and to provide some context to the current Bill, I would like to give a brief background to the establishment and role of the MCIB and the events over the last two years that have given rise to the need for this legislative change. The MCIB was established under the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 to investigate marine casualties and publish reports of such investigations. Under the 2000 Act, the MCIB is mandated to examine and, if necessary, carry out investigations into all types of marine casualties to, or on board, Irish registered vessels worldwide and other vessels in Irish territorial waters and inland waterways. This includes commercial cargo and passenger shipping, licensed fishing vessels and recreational and leisure craft. Section 8 of the 2000 Act provides for the independence of the board, while section 9 provides for a five-person board comprising three persons appointed by the Minister for Transport, the chief surveyor of the Department of Transport and the Secretary General of the Department, or his or her nominee.
The MCIB is also designated as the investigative body in the State for the purposes of EU Directive 2009/18/EC of 23 April 2009, which established the fundamental principles governing the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector. The directive applies since 2011 to a subset of the marine casualties that come within the remit of the MCIB. The purpose of an investigation is to establish the cause or causes of a marine casualty, with a view to making recommendations for the avoidance of similar marine casualties. It is not the purpose of an investigation to attribute blame or fault. The MCIB is a non-prosecutorial body which does not enforce laws or carry out prosecutions arising from the findings of its investigations.
In March 2019, the EU Commission lodged a case with the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, expressing concern at the independence of the MCIB in the context of the independence requirements of Article 8.1 of Directive 2009/18/EC with particular regard to the membership of two officers of the Department of Transport, namely, the chief surveyor and a nominee of the Secretary General on the board. On 9 July 2020 the CJEU issued a judgment concerning the independence of the MCIB insofar as its investigative work falls within the scope of Directive 2009/18/EC. The court declared that by failing to provide for an investigative body which is independent in its organisation and decision-making of any party whose interests could conflict with the task entrusted to that investigative body, Ireland has failed to comply with its obligations under Article 8.1 of Directive 2009/18/EC. The issue was the presence of two departmental officials on the board, who were seen as persons whose interests could conflict with the task entrusted to the MCIB. There was no finding of wrongdoing on the part of any members of the board. The State addressed the court findings through the resignation of the two board members from the board on 30 July 2020 and the introduction of amending regulations under the European Communities Act 1972, to confirm that the two members are no longer board members for the purpose of investigations that fall within the scope of the directive.
However, while these actions address the CJEU ruling from an EU perspective, separate legislative revisions are required at a national level for a number of important reasons. First, to facilitate the appointment of new members to the MCIB to fill the existing vacancies on the board. Second, to remove risks associated with the current reduced board membership of only three persons and to ensure that the board can continue to meet the quorum requirements of the 2000 Act, which stipulates a quorum of three members for a meeting of the board. Third, on grounds of consistency to encompass the broader spectrum of investigations that come within the remit of the MCIB under the 2000 Act and fourth, to ensure that the board can continue to function to meet our EU and international obligations to have an independent marine casualty investigative body in place. The Bill that I present to the House today will address these issues.
I now wish to look at the content of the Bill, which consists of 16 sections. As already outlined, the main focus is to facilitate a revised board composition for the MCIB and the appointment of new board members. The Bill also provides for other necessary operational and technical revisions to the 2000 Act to support the ongoing independent functioning of the MCIB. The opportunity has also been taken in the Bill to update the definition of “safety convention” in the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952, which relates to the International Maritime Organization's International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS. This is being done to facilitate the transposition of some convention amendments since December 2014 into Irish secondary legislation.
Section 1 of the Bill is the interpretation section. It provides for a definition of the Act of 2000, that is, the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, No. 14 of 2000, which is the focus of the amendments set out in sections 2 to 12, inclusive, of the Bill. As already mentioned, the 2000 Act is the Act that underpins the establishment and the operation of the MCIB. Section 2 removes the definition of “chief surveyor” from the interpretation section of the 2000 Act as it is no longer required because the chief surveyor is no longer a member of the board of the MCIB.
Section 3 is one of the most important sections of the Bill, as it amends section 9 of the 2009 Act, which relates to the composition of the board of the MCIB. The section provides for a substitution of section 9 of the 2000 Act to provide for a new composition of the board of the MCIB based on a minimum of five members and a maximum of seven members appointed by the Minister for Transport. References to the chief surveyor and the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, or his or her nominee as members of the board, have been removed. The section facilitates the appointment of new board members and provides some flexibility on the total number of members in recognition of the limited pool of persons with appropriate maritime or other expertise who may be interested in putting themselves forward for consideration as a member of the board. However mindful of the CJEU judgment, the section precludes serving officers of the Department of Transport or certain officers or special advisers to Ministers or Ministers of State who held a position in the Department in a previous five-year period from being eligible for appointment as a member of the board.
Section 3 also sets out a framework of desired skill sets for potential board members in the interest of maintaining knowledge and expertise on the board. The list is not exhaustive but includes knowledge, experience and expertise in such matters as accident investigation, corporate governance and management, marine engineering, nautical science or navigation, naval architecture, maritime law and regulation, health and safety management and risk management. The possibility of increased membership will facilitate the addition of further expertise on the board. The revised section introduces a specific consideration of board gender balance when the Minister of Transport is appointing members of the board. This is in line with the Government's commitment to achieve gender balance on State boards and the code of practice for the governance of State bodies.
Section 4 amends the tenure of office provisions in section 10 of the 2000 Act that apply to board members and removes the age threshold for members. The chairperson and members of the board may be appointed for an initial period not exceeding five years and may be reappointed for a second term. In accordance with the updated code of practice for the governance of State bodies, membership of the board will be limited to two terms of appointment.
Section 5 is a minor technical amendment to section 11 of the 2000 Act to adjust a cross reference in the section arising from the revised construction of section 9 of the 2000 Act under section 3 of the Bill.
Section 6 amends section 14 of the 2000 Act, which relates to the quorum for a meeting of the board and vacancies on the board. The amended section clarifies the possible composition of the three-person quorum, including when the chairperson and deputy chairperson are not in attendance at a meeting or are required to withdraw at the same time due to conflict of interest issues. As in other sections of the Bill, some consequential amendments to section 14 are provided for, arising from section 3 of the Bill and the revised composition of the board.
Section 7 expands the scope of section 16 of the 2000 Act relating to consultants, advisers and investigators to facilitate the engagement of additional expertise by the board to assist it in the performance of its functions under the Act. All references to investigators nominated by the chief surveyor from the Marine Survey Office, MSO, have been removed from the section to confirm the current situation where no Marine Survey Office personnel are involved in investigating marine casualties on behalf of the MCIB.
Investigations are conducted by investigators from a panel established by the MCIB. Section 8 is a consequential amendment and amends section 17 of the 2000 Act to apply the disclosure of interests requirements of that section to any other provider of skills or expertise engaged by the board under the amended section 16 of that Act.
Section 9 amends section 18 of the 2000 Act to bring a greater consistency between the provisions of the 2000 Act and the regulatory regime that applies to marine investigations that fall within the scope of EU Directive 2009/18/EC, which governs the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector, with regard to confidentiality and the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information.
Section 10 provides for an important specific requirement for persons who are involved in or aware of a marine casualty to notify the MCIB of information regarding the marine casualty through an amendment of section 23 of the 2000 Act, which deals with the initial notification of marine casualties.
Mindful of the CJEU judgment and the independence of the MCIB, section 11 amends section 26 of the 2000 Act in relation to investigations, to remove the requirement to consult with the Minister for Transport when the board decides to investigate a casualty that falls within section 26(1)(b) of the 2000 Act.
Section 12 amends section 34 of the 2000 Act to bring a consistency between the timeframe for the publication of investigation reports by the board under the 2000 Act and those that fall within the scope of Directive 2009/18/EC. The amendment provides that the board will endeavour to publish an investigation report within 12 months of the occurrence of the marine casualty rather than within nine months of the notification of the casualty. At least one interim report within 12 months of the occurrence of a marine casualty will be required if the board is not in a position to publish a final report within that 12-month period.
Section 13 is not an amendment to the 2000 Act. It is a new, stand-alone provision in the Bill that will require persons to notify the Marine Survey Office when a marine casualty within the meaning of the 2000 Act occurs. This is an important provision and recognises the fact that the Marine Survey Office continues to have an interest in knowing about marine casualties, in particular where there may be implications for the safety of vessels, crew, passengers or the environment, and where there are regulatory compliance issues that need to be addressed or followed up. To reflect the provisions of section 1(4) of the 2000 Act, the requirements of the section do not apply to vessels of the Naval Service of the Defence Forces. Warships of another state are also excluded, in order to be consistent with the application of Directive 2009/18/EC. The offence provisions in the section are in line with those that apply to similar offences under the 2000 Act.
Section 14 is a transitional provision to confirm the continuation and completion of any MCIB investigations that may have been commenced and have not been completed on the date of the enactment of the Bill. To remove any doubt, the section also confirms the continued appointment of the three remaining members of the existing board for the unexpired term of their appointments under the 2000 Act.
Section 15 provides for an amendment of section 3(1) of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952 to substitute and update the definition of "safety convention" in that Act. The definition was last updated in 2014. This will facilitate the transposition into Irish secondary legislation of some recent amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the SOLAS convention, that have been adopted up to and including the 99th session of the maritime safety committee of the International Maritime Organization in May 2018. The SOLAS convention is an important international convention concerning the safety of merchant ships. The main objective of the convention is to specify minimum safety standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships. The convention has been updated and amended on numerous occasions and is subject to change on a continuous and almost annual basis by the International Maritime Organization, thus necessitating periodic updating of the enabling provisions in Irish primary legislation.
Section 16 is a standard legislative provision providing for the Short Title, collective citation and construction of the Bill.
As indicated at the outset, the primary aim in presenting this Bill for the consideration of the House is to amend the existing legislative framework that relates to the MCIB in order to ensure the continued functioning of the board as the maritime investigative body in the State, by facilitating the filling of vacancies on the board and the appointment of additional board members, and thereby removing the current risks associated with a reduced board membership. The proposals contained in the Bill will enhance the organisational independence of the MCIB in carrying out its important role in investigating marine casualties, establishing the cause or causes of those casualties and making safety recommendations for the avoidance of similar incidents in the future. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The importance of the State's accident investigative units was highlighted in recent weeks with the publication of the final report into the R116 crash off the Mayo coast in 2017, which was a report and investigation conducted by the Air Accident Investigation Unit, AAIU. This report laid out the extensive investigation carried out by the AAIU and made 42 safety recommendations to a number of parties, aimed at trying to prevent another terrible tragedy. The AAIU has responsibility for aviation accidents, while the Railway Accident Investigation Unit has responsibility for incidents on our railways and the equivalent for our vast maritime area is the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.
The MCIB was established in March 2003 under the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000. In 2019, the MCIB commenced full investigations into ten separate incidents, which was double the number investigated in 2018. This included accidents at sea, in recreational fishing, kayaking and in the cargo shipping area. Three sinkings, six fatalities and one injury were also investigated by the MCIB in 2019. Its work is vital and I commend the investigators, the secretariat and the board on their essential work. I am, however, deeply concerned that the MCIB is not appropriately structured or resourced by the Government to a level commensurate with its degree of responsibility.
The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks heard evidence earlier this year that what we need for the maritime sector is an independent investigative unit headed by a full-time principal investigator, with full-time assistance from qualified maritime professionals, in line with what is currently in place for the aviation and rail sectors. That makes complete sense. Unfortunately, that provision is not in this Bill. This Bill, as the Minister of State has mentioned, is urgently needed in order to fill vacancies left at the MCIB as a result of a European court ruling last year. In July 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that the composition of the MCIB was not adhering to EU regulations against potential conflicts of interest. Specifically, this concerned the chief surveyor and the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, or their nominees, who were members of the board. Their membership could have been a conflict of interest, as the Department of Transport could be a party to any MCIB investigation. The two board members in question resigned their positions in the aftermath of the judgment and the board now comprises three members, with no process to fill the vacancies. This Bill will allow for the appointment of new board members, with a minimum of five and maximum of seven on the MCIB. While I welcome the ability of the board to gain new members and function effectively, this is just a sticking plaster when we consider what is needed, which is overall reform.
As mentioned, the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks heard evidence on the need to reform and beef up the MCIB. I thank Mr. Michael Kingston and Mr. Ciaran McCarthy, who appeared as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process on this Bill in early 2021 and provided helpful assistance to members of the committee. In his evidence to us, Mr. Kingston highlighted the financial disparity with the other two investigative units, namely, the AAIU and the Railway Accident Investigation Unit. In 2019, the MCIB spent €27,000 on investigators in the field for ten incidents, including, tragically, six deaths in the maritime sector.
A total of €750,000 was spent on aviation and €350,000 was spent on rail. These are the amounts spent on investigators in the field, leaving aside spending on administrative staff. This gap in funding highlights the significant difference in approach. Again, I do not wish to criticise the individuals working at the MCIB but we need comprehensive reform and proper resourcing to bring it into line with the two equivalent accident investigative units.
The function of the MCIB is to examine and carry out investigations into all types of marine casualties to, or on board, Irish registered vessels worldwide and other vessels in Irish territorial waters and inland waterways. Ireland’s maritime area is seven times the size of its landmass, with 7,500 km of coastline, not to mention our inland waterways. It is a vast area with complex and often dangerous vessel movements and we need a fully resourced investigative unit to match this.
Brexit has resulted in a huge increase in the number of direct shipping routes to the Continent, which is welcome. There are now 44 direct ferry routes between Ireland, France and the Benelux countries, up from just seven before Brexit. While thankfully we do not see many accidents in this area, it is a significant increase in the number of vessels, vehicles and personnel using our ports and taking longer journeys at sea, which will undoubtedly give rise to the potential for an increase in accidents. In addition, it is the State’s ambition to develop 5 GW of offshore wind power over the next decade. This will see a huge increase in activity at our ports and construction in our seas to build the offshore wind turbines. Again, this will result in a significant increase in vessel and personnel movements and more complex operations to install the turbines offshore. I am not suggesting this cannot be done safely but with such a major increase in activity in this area, it is absolutely appropriate to have a fully funded and adequately resourced maritime investigative unit to try to reduce the number of potential incidents and ensure that any accidents are investigated and learned from quickly.
The need for codification of marine law has also been highlighted previously but this Bill does not do that. The Bill refers to Merchant Shipping Acts going back as far as 1894. Some of this law was drafted before the State came into existence and when the merchant shipping fleet would have been largely sailing ships, not even steamships, not to mention the diesel ships that we have today. It is very difficult for stakeholders to untangle the complex web and find out what is required of them, which can only have a highly negative impact on compliance. It is clear this area is crying out for codification but the Government has said it will get back to it later as it needs to progress this particular Bill quickly.
In its pre-legislative scrutiny report, the Oireachtas committee stated that it welcomed the commencement of the Department’s review into our national marine investigation framework and looked forward to receiving a copy of the Clinch report as soon as possible. When will we see that report? We are very anxious to see it. The Minister of State referenced it in her opening remarks. It is important that committee members see it in advance of the Committee Stage debate on this Bill during which we will want to submit various amendments.
Sinn Féin recognises that this is important, technical legislation but as it is presented, it is a missed opportunity. It should have gone further and addressed the fundamental weaknesses, outside of the structural pieces, in the MCIB. We acknowledge that the Clinch report is complete and that we have a tentative commitment from the Government to consider legislation in the time ahead but we need to see more. We will be bringing forward amendments on Committee Stage that will enshrine that commitment in this legislation. I look forward to working with the Minister of State, members of the committee and other Members across this House to improve this legislation. It is necessary legislation and the measures provided thus far are necessary in terms of compliance with European law but we have a long way to go to deliver an investigative framework and system that is fit for purpose.
My colleague, an Teachta O'Rourke, has already outlined Sinn Féin's approach to this Bill. We see it as a missed opportunity and hope the Minister of State will work with us on the substantive amendments that we will submit on Committee Stage, aimed at strengthening this legislation considerably.
I want to offer my solidarity to all of the families who have found themselves in the terrible position of having to engage with marine casualty investigations. As fisheries and marine spokesperson for Sinn Féin, I have a particular interest in ensuring that we minimise fishing tragedies as much as possible but that when they do happen, the most professional and swift investigations are carried out and comfort is given to bereaved families.
There are many misgivings about the current system and its shortcomings. These misgivings have been well articulated by those who have had the misfortune to have had to engage with the MCIB over many years, none more so than the respected campaigner Michael Kingston. During the Oireachtas committee's pre-legislative scrutiny hearings, Mr. Kingston put it on record that he has engaged with a multitude of departmental officials, current and former MCIB investigators and former departmental surveyors, all of whom have deep reservations about the current system. These reservations cannot be brushed under the carpet because to do so would be a disservice to all those who have passed due to marine tragedies and their families.
I want to take this opportunity to read into the Dáil record the ongoing experience of the families of Gerry Doherty and Thomas Weir who both drowned in a boating tragedy near Portronan, Malin Head in Donegal on 17 July 2018. As Gerry's father, Paddy, had drowned in a crabbing accident when Gerry was a teenager, this was a double tragedy for his family who are very traumatised by all of this. There are serious questions about how the emergency response system of this State handled this tragedy on that fateful day and since. The families have serious issues with the MCIB investigation into the circumstances surrounding their loved ones' deaths and the level of co-operation from the MCIB with the ongoing inquest into their deaths. I ask the Minister of State to take a particular interest in this case because I have no doubt that more will be revealed in due course. This is another reason for serious reform of the board and its practices.
The EU judgment that demands this legislation has affirmed these concerns but this Bill is only one piece in the jigsaw that will fix it. The MCIB must be entirely independent of any other State agency or body and must have complete autonomy. Until this happens, doubts and questions will persist and this cannot continue. Mistakes have been made in the past. They must now be rectified and we must get this right. Failures that have occurred in the past have compounded hurt and made difficult situations even harder for survivors, loved ones and colleagues. These failures cannot happen again. As legislators, we must ensure that this legislation is only the start and not the end of a reform process.
To continue with part-time investigators in the marine area is entirely unacceptable. Michael Kingston has previously provided data on spending in the aviation and rail sectors compared to the marine sector and has pointed to the fact that those two sectors have full-time investigators despite, thankfully, having no deaths to investigate. It is imperative that we have full-time investigators for marine investigations. This is a must. The approach to the MCIB reflects the approach to the fisheries and marine sector in general in this country. We are the only island nation in the entirety of the EU now but fishermen in this State feel failed, neglected and abandoned by the Department and other State agencies. The approach to this board and how it has been allowed to continue for so long reflects the utter neglect of our marine resource and our marine communities by Government after Government.
That is to be straight about it. It must stop. The process in terms of the legislation must be of the highest standard to recruit the best qualified individuals.
I want to conclude by thanking Michael Kingston and others, notably, Ciaran McCarthy, who have given years of dedicated and selfless work to this issue for the greater good. I stress again that the priority must be getting this right. We must have a new system that can be trusted. Victims, survivors and their family members and loved ones deserve nothing less.
I commend the two previous contributions, in particular that of Deputy Mac Lochlainn. This is a technical Bill, but all Bills and everything we do in this House have an impact in the real world and to hear the stories shared by him brings home that fact.
On the surface, this is a straightforward task as the legislation before us is a technical Bill that it is legislating and resourcing the State to continue maritime regulations and provide for an investigative body to examine maritime accidents. The EU Commission lodged a case with the Court of Justice of the European Union expressing concern at the independence of the Maritime Casualty Investigation Board, how the board is filled and the role of the Department and the Minister. In July 2020, the CJEU issued a judgment expressing Ireland's failure to provide for an investigative body that is independent in its organisation and decision-making of a Department or Minister who brings forward the legislation that regulates the sector. Since then, we have had two resignations from the board in light of the ruling.
This legislation must provide for a Marine Casualty Investigation Board that is truly independent of those who regulate it. It only makes sense that such a division would be in place to ensure that investigations are independent and can deliver impartial conclusions that would have the trust of all.
Considerable concerns in regard to the legislation that governs the MCIB were raised by Michael Kingston, an expert in this area who engaged with the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks. His testimony was extensive and unbelievably commendable. He is a man of real expertise in this area. He held the attention of the committee through his sheer depth of experience. He is one of the strongest witnesses I have ever come across in any committee in this House or other forum. Through the committee, issues relating to the legislation were discussed, following a briefing. If it was not for Mr. Kingston, perhaps the Bill would not have received such a level of scrutiny. The independence of the MCIB is a legal requirement upon the Government. The CJEU judgment has outlined this to the State, and it must be ensured that the MCIB is appropriately appointed and is independent in its brief. As Deputy O'Rourke indicated in his contribution, we cannot miss this opportunity. It would be a missed opportunity if the Bill goes through without that being done.
The board investigating marine accidents is a part-time board operating panels of investigation which, as Mr Kingston outlined in the committee, receives minimal support, co-operation, and resourcing. The board must be disbanded and an independent full-time, permanent investigation unit established with a principal investigator and a team of investigators, all of whom should be drawn from within the sector and have the appropriate expertise.
The Government attempted to waive pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill. That action alone speaks to how the Marine Casualty Investigation Board is viewed and how seriously it viewed the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The judgment was not a good look for the Government, and by failing to provide for an investigative body which is truly independent in its organisation and decision-making Ireland would fail to comply with its obligations under Article 8.1 of Directive 2009/18/EC.
Compared with the aviation and rail sectors, where there are full-time investigative units and where far more funding is spent on investigating and drawing conclusions on accidents, the marine sector and its investigative body and processes pale almost into insignificance. When one compares the investment per mortality, it is €750,000 per mortality in aviation; €350,00 per mortality in rail and €2,700 per mortality in the maritime area. The situation does not bear comparison and is unacceptable.
We heard statements last week regarding the tragic air disaster of Rescue 116. We have seen far too many road accidents and marine accidents over many years that have shaken communities and us personally. These incidents are heartbreaking for all those involved. All of us in this House empathise with the bereaved. Losing someone to a tragedy touches many with grief and the grief should not be further compounded by a system of investigation that is not up to recognised international best practice. If we allow the Bill to go through unamended, we will have an investigation unit that is not based on international best practice.
Since the start of the current Dáil, the Air Navigation and Transport Bill has gone through these Houses dealing with similar issues in aviation. As I outlined, in our rail and air investigation systems the processes are deemed adequate and they receive ample resourcing to carry out their serious and vital work. It is our role as legislators to ensure that should people be involved in marine accidents, there is parity with other sectors in terms of how the investigations are conducted.
It is not an unfair demand to properly resource an investigative unit in the marine sector; it is the bare minimum of expectation that should be authorised by the State. Fundamentally, investing in this appropriately only serves to make our waters safer for those working in the sector. We should not be constrained by finances. When we are dealing with tragedies, we must be able to get to the truth and be able to trust the judgments of investigations.
The purpose of MCIB investigations is to examine and identify safety learnings and make recommendations on issues for the Department. With the objective to make the marine industry safer, however there remains concern that this Bill will further delay the publication of reports and their safety recommendations. This would lead to prolonging the suffering of those involved in accidents and risks delaying additional safety measures from being actioned. The Bill must ensure timely investigations are carried out. I look forward to tabling amendments, along with my colleagues in the Opposition, on Committee Stage to strengthen the Bill and make sure we have a marine investigation unit that is on a par with best practice internationally.
The printer in the office decided to pack it in and the battery in my laptop is on the brink, so I might be ad libbing in a moment. We will see how it goes.
The legislation before us today allows for the continued independent functioning of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board but it is important to refer to the progression of the legislation to date, specifically the work that I and other colleagues, including Deputy O'Rourke, have been undertaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications. The committee sought extensive pre-legislative scrutiny, but the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and the Department of Transport were insistent that the Bill needed to progress at a rapid pace. Reluctantly, we acceded to the request and our waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny was conditional on the Department of Transport publishing and making available the Clinch report, which was drafted by Captain Steve Clinch, of the UK-based Clinchmaritime Limited. This was a Government-funded independent review of Ireland's marine casualty investigation structures. The key aims of the review and the Clinch report were to assess the current organisational structures of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and set out in report format to the Minister for Transport any recommendations, including changes to achieve the most appropriate and effective marine casualty investigation structures in Ireland, taking into account our national and EU obligations. It is very frustrating that thus far, the Clinch report has been withheld. It must be released as a matter of urgency. I understand that one of its key recommendations is to establish a professional full-time unit to investigate marine casualties. Currently, we have a part-time investigation board, staffed by part-time investigators. In order to properly provide for marine investigations in Ireland, surely we need to know the A to Z of the Clinch report and, where appropriate, to stitch its key recommendations into legislation.
The realm of marine casualty investigation is very much the poor relation of air and rail accident investigation in this country. If we take 2019 as a base year, the Air Accident Investigation Unit, which is a full-time unit, had an operational budget of €750,000. The Railway Accident Investigation Unit, which is also a full-time unit, had an operational budget of €350,000. In the very same year of 2019, in which six lives were lost in our territorial waters, the part-time Marine Casualty Investigation Board had a paltry budget of €27,000. In 2019, the board investigated ten maritime incidents, which breaks down into a spend per incident of €2,700.
I wish to reference the marine hazards report which found that the awful sea tragedy off the coast of Kilkee, County Clare, in 2016, which saw Coast Guard volunteer, Caitriona Lucas, lose her life, was not properly investigated. If we had proper procedures on and proper oversight of maritime safety, this incident or accident might not have happened, and poor Caitriona - ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam - might not have lost her life. It is a "what if" but it is a "what if" that needs to be considered as we consider this legislation.
I want to conclude my remarks by paying tribute to Michael Kingston, who has been in touch with many of us on the transport committee. He is a most excellent witness, somebody who, unfortunately, has lived through the tragedy of marine accidents himself. He knows this issue far too well and he has devoted much of his professional life to looking at how we can have an effective, well structured and robust marine accident investigation outfit in Ireland. We need to look at much of what he has put forward. The Clinch report needs to be expedited and considered parallel to this. It cannot just be ignored. We cannot have key recommendations coming out of that and then realise - hang on a minute - in winter 2021, we had an opportunity in this legislation to deal with this but we did not, and the report issued a few months later. I do not think that can happen. The two have to be looked at and considered on balance together and in parallel.
As has been said, this legislation, along with the movement towards rectifying the difficulties due to the judgment, is welcome and needs to be progressed as quickly as possible. However, there are other serious issues that we all need to consider. When we think of Ireland as an island nation, the large territorial waters we have around our island and our maritime tradition, and the fact the investigation board that is in place is part-time, poorly funded, with an ad hocstructure and without the same level of commitment from Government that other agencies have, it is a poor reflection on how past Governments and the present Government have invested in the safety of people who are at sea and, as was mentioned, on the inland waterways as well. I am conscious that when we look at other agencies, such as the aviation units and units dealing with rail, or when we look internationally at the maritime investigation units in other countries which are practically landlocked and perhaps have a small coastline, but have multiples of the investment which we put in, it is a poor reflection given where we need to go.
Mention was made of the fact we have had a large number of tragedies over the decades, where, unfortunately, many people in our fishing community have been lost at sea and in other incidents as well. Our hearts always go out to those people because even those of us who may not go on the waterways or out to sea very often recognise the huge risk that people take when they go to sea and the danger they face in all of that. Yet, they continue to do it to make a livelihood, to try to survive and to feed their families, and to contribute to often dwindling coastal communities, which are under extreme pressure in many cases. The fact the State is seen to take it in such a derisory way, given the amount of money that is put in place and the level of commitment for this unit, is reflected in what has happened up to now.
What we need to see is not just this legislation being expedited as quickly as possible, and we recognise the urgency of this, but, clearly, a whole new framework needs to be put in place. I hope the Clinch report will deliver the template for that to happen. That report needs to be published as quickly as possible and, then, we can get to the real work of delivering its recommendations. I encourage the Minister and the Government to do that as quickly as possible.
I do not know how many times I have stood in this House to criticise our lax record on implementing EU directives. We are constant laggards when it comes to EU law, and that goes across Departments, but in this particular case, instead of delaying the implementation, we seem to have just pretended that we had properly transposed the legislation and hoped the European Commission would not notice there were two departmental officials sitting on the independent Marine Casualty Investigation Board. Of course, not only were we knowingly going against an EU directive - because I do not for one instant believe that the Department thought this arrangement constituted independence - we also knowingly went against established best practice.
In 1987, a UK ferry, the Herald of Free Enterprise, left a Belgian port with its bow door open and the sea immediately flooded the decks. The ferry capsized within ten minutes, killing 193 passengers and crew. I remember the incident very well and what transpired afterwards in terms of the safety that was insisted on, in particular making sure doors were closed and that there were public announcements, and so on. The public inquiry into it resulted in the establishment of the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch. In the following years, many other countries followed suit and set up similar organisations.
Unfortunately, we waited until 1998 to consider setting up our own investigation structure. A report was commissioned and people were dispatched to various places around the world to observe best practice, noting that bodies should be independent and should contain maritime experts. Incredibly, we then concluded that we should ignore all of that best practice and have the Secretary General of the Department of Transport and the Chief Surveyor of the Marine Survey Office on the board, and we proceeded to include no other people with maritime expertise. This was to act directly and consciously against the best practice which was observed in other jurisdictions, not to mention against basic common sense in that the two regulators in the area should not be investigating themselves. I would have thought this was self-evident, although I know this was before the Minister of State’s time.
In the 2000s, the EU produced a suite of legislative packages - Erika 1, 2, and 3 - which were all intended to improve safety in the shipping industry and reduce environmental damage. The packages were named after a particular ship which spilled more than 10,000 tonnes of oil off the coast of France in 1999, polluting 400 km of coastline. We also had experience of that in previous decades. What followed was Directive 2009/18/EC, the directive which we were found to have contravened. It outlines that an investigative body carrying out marine safety investigations shall be independent in its organisation, legal structure and decision-making of any party whose interests could conflict with the task entrusted to it. We have to remember the whole purpose of this report, as we discussed last week in regard to R116, was not to apportion blame but to ensure we ended up reducing the number of accidents - in that case, making our skies safer, and in this case, making the marine environment safer. When I say "the marine environment", I understand this entity is not confined to the coast but also covers lakes and inland waterways.
We transposed that directive in the full knowledge that the board was not independent, by any understanding of the word. In 2015, the European Commission asked for clarity from the Department on the implementation of the directive, noting that the Chief Surveyor and the Secretary General “performed other regulatory and enforcement functions in respect of the regulations in the field of maritime transport and/or fisheries”, and we did nothing.
In 2016, the European Commission rightly commenced infringement proceedings against the State and incredibly the Department argued that the make-up of the board of the MCIB constituted independence. What on earth was the Department thinking about when it challenged this? Why did it not accept that this was not really something that could be challenged? I would like to hear what kind of advice was received in this regard and from whom. It would be useful if the Minister of State could explain that when she is summing up. Did the Department receive legal advice which encouraged it to challenge the European Commission's decision? In the Committee of Public Accounts I am forever asking the State Claims Agency what it is advising Departments on or how it comes about that things are being challenged which should not be challenged. How much money did the State spend on this case? It is a case we seemed destined to lose and that we deserved to lose. The MCIB needs to be completely independent. It needs to contain maritime experts and not only legal experts who rely on independently contracted investigators to carry out reports.
Crucially however, the investigation of maritime casualties needs to be resourced. The ad hocnature of resourcing given to this area is appalling. We have investigation units for the rail and aviation industries, as has been pointed out by others. It is not a foreign concept to us that these units are required and it is good practice to have them. In 2019, €350,000 was spent on rail investigators and €750,000 was spent on aviation investigators and thankfully there were no deaths in those sectors during those years. In the same year only €27,000 was spend on investigators in the maritime industry on ten incidents, including six deaths. It is unacceptable to take such a hands-off approach to investigating maritime casualties. The board does not contain maritime expertise, it is only now becoming independent from the regulator, it is part-time and all reports are done through independently contracted investigators that are under-resourced. There is an ad hocnature to what is and is not investigated. There do not seem to be clear protocols on that and it would be useful to hear what is intended in that area.
On the topic of the reports themselves, there are many alarm bells ringing. It was reported last year that a file had gone to detectives in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which alleged that Department officials had been interfering in reports from the MCIB, altering investigative reports which made criticisms of the Department and removing safety recommendations made by investigators. That is only an allegation but it sets off alarm bells. It is a serious charge to lay at the Department's door and is exactly the kind of situation which is to be avoided by having an independent investigative body in place. The reports produced by this body are not intended to make the Department of Transport look good. That is not what the purpose of this body is; it is to prevent accidents happening in the future and to find out what happened in particular incidents. The body should be entirely focused on improving safety and environmental issues. The intention is to learn from incidents and prevent future casualties. The suggestion that these reports were altered to remove safety recommendations and that lives were possibly put at risk is something we need to be concerned about. As I said, it is an allegation at this point.
The MCIB does not investigate every single maritime incident which is reported to it. However, there is no clarity to or transparency in the process on how it is decided whether or not it will investigate an incident. Not all of these issues are addressed in the Bill. I share the concerns of other Deputies that the Bill does not go far enough and I am concerned that it is a sticking plaster. We need a timeline for when a more comprehensive approach will be taken. I accept that the quorum for the board needs to be raised in the immediate term, but this Bill cannot be seen as anything other than an interim measure. If we want to be serious about maritime safety then much more needs to be done. We do not need to wait until the EU passes a new directive or hauls us through the courts to make further reforms. We know problems exist beyond what is addressed here and we know that the investigation of marine casualties needs a serious overhaul.
I expect that this is not news to the Minister of State. I understand that a report on the MCIB is sitting on her desk at the moment. This report was mentioned by other Members and it was commissioned from Clinchmaritime Limited. It makes a number of recommendations for reform. Is it likely that we will see any amendments on Committee Stage as a result of that? Will that report inform that process or is this the extent of what we can expect? I have not seen the report and I encourage the Minister of State to release it. We cannot pass legislation like this when we know there is a deficiency and that more needs to be done. This does not exclusively happen in transport; it comes up in justice quite a lot as well but we often put a gun to our heads in setting a timeline to put something in place because we are not complying with EU law.
We need to know what exactly has gone wrong in the MCIB to date. This would inform a new Bill to provide an appropriate investigation system. That system may constitute an entirely new body. We are an island nation, which others have referred to, and we also have a culture, born out of necessity, of a strong maritime industry. Pre-Brexit, we were establishing more ferry routes and relying more on the sea bridge to mainland Europe now that the land bridge is less accessible.
We are all aware that the fishing industry is often a dangerous one to work in. Incidents, fatalities and losses at sea are often reported. I note that this Bill would make it an offence to not report an incident within six months. I understand that the intention behind this is to attempt to ensure that all incidents are reported. However, I would worry that the threat of an offence may have the opposite effect. You would hope that people would buy into this and accept that it is being put in place in the interests of safety. The no-fault nature of the investigation body is key to ensuring that the industry is as safe as possible. It ensures that people feel comfortable coming forward to report incidents without fear. It may well be that more than regulation will be imparted and that training and expertise are also imparted. Has a regulatory impact survey been done on this measure in particular? I know the Committee on Transport and Communications has asked that this section be removed until the committee can give it further scrutiny.
It is self-evident that we need to ensure that we have the highest possible level of safety in our maritime industry. I will be watching out for the Minister of State to respond on what is intended. None of us could accept that this will be sufficient to properly put a system in place that achieves a safer environment for people to work in. I hope that serious note will be taken of the extent of the resourcing of the investigative board and of the ad hocnature of what does and does not get investigated. That is important and several Members have made the exact same point on that.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.
The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, will be aware of the extensive pre-legislative scrutiny that took place on the general scheme of this Bill dating back to January last. The reason we as a State are introducing this legislation is that Ireland has had an illegally constituted Marine Casualty Investigation Board for some time. This Bill seeks to rectify that situation following the embarrassing judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union entered against Ireland on 9 July 2020.
However, this Bill simply does not go far enough as it does not address the fundamental failures of our marine casualty investigation system. The refusal over the years to fix these problems has led to multiple unnecessary deaths in the Irish maritime sector and it is happening in the wake of the Rescue 116 report which highlighted staggering systematic failures by the Department of Transport. The reality is if you do not investigate marine tragedies correctly you cannot identify the root cause of those tragedies and you cannot save life going forward, which is the very purpose of international and EU regulations. There are so many failed Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, reports that have not identified the root cause of maritime accidents. These reports, including the one on the late Caitríona Lucas in Kilkee on 12 September 2015, have not made appropriate recommendations. Families across Ireland, including the families of the late John O'Brien and his friend, the late Pat Esmonde, are left in bewilderment as to what happened to their beloved relatives which is a fundamental breach of their rights as victims under the European Convention on Human Rights.
In initiating this Bill, the Department sought to avoid pre-legislative scrutiny. The Department argued that the Bill was urgent for the functioning of the MCIB in that if the Bill goes through it will increase the composition of the MCIB for quorum issues while a formal review is carried out. Crucially, that review has now been carried out by Captain Steve Clinch and was submitted to the Department in July 2021, which is four months ago. Despite several requests, the Department has not disclosed this report. The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications has formally requested it and as late as Thursday last, at a meeting of the committee, I requested this document once again. However, the Department will not release it citing legal issues.
The Bill before us today finally presents the Oireachtas with an opportunity to fix a broken system and bring the State into line with international best practice by introducing into law the recommendations of the Captain Steve Clinch report. As the Minister of State will be aware, the current MCIB is run on a part-time basis and investigations are carried out by part-time investigators. This model is utterly insufficient. The investigators are also appointed to a panel on a short-term basis with minimal support, co-operation or training.
The concept of a board with part-time board members that have no maritime experience needs to change. What is required is a maritime accident investigation unit with a principal investigator. For example, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, MAIB, in the UK has a chief inspector who heads up the unit and a team of investigators with relevant competencies. The MAIB chief investigator reports directly to the Minister and is thereby empowered to make all operational decisions. Indeed, similar models are operated in many other countries, such as Iceland and Finland. Sweden goes a step further and bypasses the department of transport altogether, reporting to the Ministry of Justice, which makes absolute sense. In The Netherlands, they go a step further again, and have an independent national safety board encompassing transport, defence, healthcare and other areas, thus avoiding any political interference in accident investigation, which should be our ultimate aim in Ireland.
I have concerns that the Bill before us is in fundamental breach on the substantive point of competence as required by the EU directive. This Bill needs to be dramatically improved with a view to ensuring that we as a State finally address the question of competence, thereby dealing with our continued breach of the EU directive on these grounds while also avoiding the risk of further infringement proceedings against Ireland.
The Minister of State would be aware of the report by the barrister, Ms Roisin Lacey SC, in August 2010, which recommended a national multi-modal accident investigation office to amalgamate the existing Air Accident Investigation Unit, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and the Rail Accident Investigation Unit. Ms Lacey also drafted heads of a Bill at that time to address all these issues. Therefore, the Minister of State will be aware that we are now into report number three over four decades, the most current being the Captain Clinch report of July 2021 which, no doubt, recommends an independent investigative unit, as the 1998 report did and the 2010 Roisin Lacey report did.
There is a real urgency to comprehensively deal with this very serious issue of marine casualty investigation. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for commissioning the Captain Clinch report on foot of the joint committee's request as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process.
Here is the Minister of State's opportunity to finally deal with these matters in a comprehensive fashion and bring Ireland in line with best international practice. Last week, we debated the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021. It had everything from the e-scooter to safety arrangements on the M50 included in it. If there is a will we can introduce the amendments necessary on Committee Stage. I am asking the Minister of State to introduce those amendments on Committee Stage to incorporate the recommendations of the Clinch report. I ask her to ensure that this happens as a fundamental aspect of the Bill currently before us and that the Clinch report is published immediately. The systematic failings of the maritime and search and rescue division of the Department of Transport are so serious that there should be a public inquiry in respect of these failings.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response to my contribution. Listening to contributors from across the House, both opposition and backbench Deputies, and from across the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, there is consensus. We need change and we need the Clinch report recommendations included in this legislation.
I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, a good afternoon and thank her for coming into the Chamber to debate the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021.
By way of introduction, we are an island nation and our maritime domain is at least seven, and possibly even ten, times as large as our land mass. We are only getting to appreciate and recognise the importance of the ocean wealth that is out there, particularly from an offshore wind and offshore wave point of view. On top of that, we are looking at Brexit and we have a significant increase in the amount of shipping coming in and out of the island as a result. Some 99% of our trade comes in and out. The advent of climate change means we probably will have far more severe adverse weather conditions as well. I would make those three initial points.
The macro trends are obvious. We will probably have more maritime accidents over the next number of years and it is important we get ahead of that trend and that we get our house in order from a governance point of view. As an island nation, I very much welcome any improvements to the governance of our offshore resources and I welcome in principle the Bill before us.
I have three points to make. First, I agree with Deputy Catherine Murphy, and appreciate that the Minister of State was not here at the time and that she has inherited this anomaly. However, we should not be here even discussing this because when the structure of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, was decided in 2000 it should have been obvious that there were two appointments on that board who would obviously be conflicted and they had no business being on the board at all.
Of more concern to me, though, is that it required the European Commission to get a judgment and ruling in the European Court of Justice for us to change our mind. As the Minister of State will be well aware, they do not do that lightly. They do not go to the European Court of Justice in the first instance. They go to the European Court of Justice as a last resort. Obviously, there were plenty of opportunities over the past number of years for Ireland to get its house in order without having to rely on a court judgment.
How much did that court case cost? It is ridiculous. If the Minister of State does not have the figure to hand, perhaps her officials will be kind enough to pass it on later. We should be embracing any logical points made from a corporate governance point of view, not resisting them. If an objective external observer looked at my constituency office and gave me some pointers that made sense, I would embrace them. I would not try to resist them and I certainly would not go to court to prevent them their implementation.
While the Bill is incomplete, as I believe the Minister of State appreciates, its provisions are Bill. It has good elements from a corporate governance point of view, particularly on gender balance. Having at least 40% male and 40% female makes perfect sense and is a good rule of thumb. We should use that in other boardrooms in both the public and private sectors. I also like the diversity approach taken in the list of desirable skills, be they legal or maritime, and that the list is non-exhaustive.
It is good that we are limiting the term of office to five years with only one roll-over allowed, giving a maximum term of ten years. That is a good way to do business. I also like the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Without casting aspersions on anyone who held these appointments, it is good that former and current ministerial advisers and current and recently retired civil servants should not serve on the board. That is a good way to do business. I welcome the provisions of the Bill while also recognising its deficiencies.
In light of recent events, I am interested in finding out how these appointments will be filled. Will the Public Appointments Service be involved? Will the board of between five and seven people be appointed directly by the Minister or through the Public Appointments Service? Will the roles be part-time or full-time? What will the salaries be? Will they be commensurate with the responsibilities?
I welcome the Bill in principle. I recognise that it is incomplete, as does the Minister of State. I look forward to debating the amendments that come before the House. Ireland is only one of two island nations in the European Union, alongside Malta. As the largest island nation, we should be setting the standard and ensuring we have world-class governance of our offshore resources. It is important that we do not just meet the standard but that we be the standard.
I welcome this Bill. It is urgent given, as the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, pointed out, the need to appoint additional independent members in light of the resignation of two officials from the Department of Transport in accordance with the court ruling. I pay tribute to Deputies Mattie McGrath and Jackie Cahill, and others, for their work on this issue in the previous Dáil.
It is appropriate at this point to acknowledge the grief experienced by families around the country. The marine environment is an unforgiving environment and we still have a significant level of marine casualties. We owe it to families who have lost loved ones to properly investigate marine accidents and their causes to ensure we identify what we can do to avoid accidents in the future.
It is important that there is public confidence in the investigation of marine accidents. There was a tragic accident near the Salmon Weir in Thomondgate on 23 February 2019. I was present when 12-year-old Amy Mulcahy was brought ashore at the city slipway at O'Callaghan Strand. The accident shocked the tight-knit rowing community in Ireland and throughout the world because it involved hair entanglement in a rowing boat. As far as I and the national and international rowing governing bodies are aware, this had not happened before. I am thinking of the Mulcahy family today, particularly Amy who suffered life-changing injuries that day. A report into that accident was published by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board last month. I have misgivings about one of the findings in the report, namely, that personal flotation devices should have been worn or should have been required to be worn. In my view, as a rowing coach and an experienced rower, that could have caused greater difficulty in that particular case or in other capsize situations.
I express my support for Rowing Ireland. It operates on a tiny budget compared with many other sporting organisations. I believe there is a strong safety culture in Rowing Ireland. Despite its very limited budget, it is very serious about safety in rowing. In all my years of rowing with St. Michael’s Rowing Club in Limerick, there has always been a heavy emphasis on safety at club level and it was always clear that there was a national focus on safety in rowing.
Other Deputies have outlined the importance of sufficiently resourcing the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. I agree with Deputy Cathal Crowe that it seems like marine is the poor relation when compared with rail and air accident investigation. I agree with the Deputies who stated we need to sufficiently resource the Marine Casualty Investigation Board to ensure public confidence in the investigation of marine accidents.
I will pick up a theme that several Deputies addressed, namely, missed opportunity. In discussing the Marine Survey Office we need to bear in mind that Ireland has been in the spotlight because of our fisheries for reasons that are not good. There have been long-running investigations and exposures of slavery, forced labour, exploitation and of human trafficking. Credit is especially due to the International Transport Workers Federation, ITF, for its ceaseless work in trying to highlight these issues and contribute to safety at sea.
In response to many of the issues identified, an atypical working scheme for non-EEA citizens was established. However, the US State Department trafficking in persons, TIP, report shows that scheme is really not working. It highlights that fishermen in Ireland are still open to labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking. This is a huge concern. We need to do more to protect those who make their livelihoods at sea and working on fishing vessels.
If we set out to reform aspects of the Marine Survey Office, we need to examine the role the office plays. Currently, the MSO is wholly responsible for investigating issues around working time. It does not have the resources or experience to deal with this matter. Recommendations have been made to transfer this role to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, which investigates other worker safety issues and should be looking at this issue. It has been reported that the MSO sees no role for itself in the area of human trafficking. That is flabbergasting given the allegations concerning human trafficking in the fishing industry. While we need the Marine Survey Office to hand over some of its powers, it must also be given a clear mandate. That is a missed opportunity at this time.
This is a highly fragmented area. When I have raised this issue or tabled parliamentary questions on it, the Departments of Transport, Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Justice always respond that it is an issue for one of the other Departments. We should broaden and provide overlapping mandates instead of saying "This is ours, not yours" and vice versaand putting on the blinkers rather than looking at some of the inhumane conditions people are forced to deal with. We need to transfer or extend the jurisdiction for working time to the WRC so that it is not just a matter for the MSO. In addition, the jurisdiction of the MSO should be expanded to include aspects of human trafficking. Failure to do that in the context of this Bill, in which we are amending other aspects of the Marine Survey Office, would be a missed opportunity.
There are arguments on how we have transposed the various European directives on working time and whether we have done it in a way that protects those working at sea. I must tip my hat to Deputy Mick Barry who has mentioned this issue consistently and will no doubt do so again.
I welcome this Bill coming before the Dáil. However, we need to look at why we are here. Previous speakers have alluded to it. The whole make-up of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board has been repeatedly raised in this House over the years. It has been also raised at appropriate committees in the past. Concerns were expressed by Members of the Opposition and indeed by some such Members who now find themselves Government backbenchers. However, those concerns were dismissed entirely by the Government of the day. We should recall that the Minister of State's current party leader, the Tánaiste and Taoiseach in waiting under the current arrangement, was among those who dismissed concerns about the impartiality of the board. I note some Government backbenchers have called for an unbiased Marine Casualty Investigation Board to be appointed.
For the avoidance of doubt, Acting Chair, I have no problem giving the floor to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae for ten minutes if he wishes it. I believe I am allowed under Standing Orders to give way to any Member who requests I give way.
That is fine. I just did not want anyone to be excluded.
One may ask why we are here. We are not here because of any concerns expressed in this House, and many concerns were expressed in this House. We are here because the European Commission took a case against Ireland and Ireland, as is often the case at the European Court of Justice, lost. I want to know, as Deputy Barry has asked - I mean Deputy Berry, although I am sure Deputy Barry will probably ask the same question - how much the case cost. We need to know that. We need to know how much money was wasted defending the indefensible because we have a habit of doing that, especially in European cases. Ireland has not lost all its cases before the European Court of Justice by any stretch but I would say the Irish State and its various manifestations has lost a lot more cases than it has won over there. How much money, therefore, was wasted defending the indefensible?The Minister of State needs to give us that figure. If she does not give it to us today I will be asking for the figure by way of a parliamentary question because it is important to ascertain. The European Court of Justice found: "... the MCIB is composed of five members, including the Secretary‑General of the ... [Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport], or his or her deputy, and the Chief Surveyor of the Marine Survey Office". It specifically said:
In view of the functions performed simultaneously by both those members, on the one hand, within the ... [Department] or the Marine Survey Office and, on the other, within the MCIB, their presence demonstrates that Ireland does not fulfil its obligations under Article 8(1) of [the] Directive ...
That obligation is to have an independent body to investigate marine casualties. How anybody could think the Secretary General of the Department is somehow impartial, especially if the board was to investigate itself, is simply beyond me. It is an indefensible proposition. Thus, I ask how much taxpayers' money was wasted on this.
I note Government backbenchers calling for people who are impartial, independent and have a knowledge of the sector to be appointed. I join them in that. That was not what happened when the Minister of State's party leader appointed people. He appointed people with no knowledge whatsoever. When that was questioned by Members of this House, the response was that because they know nothing whatsoever about the area - I should say here they knew much about Fine Gael, by their own admission - they were appointed. However, because they knew nothing about the marine casualty area, although they knew something about Fine Gael, they could not possibly be biased in the performance of their duties. That is equally ludicrous. That is a political charge I am levelling at the Minister of State. I am not saying she was the person who made the decision to appoint these people. She clearly was not. She was in the Oireachtas at the time but she was not in the Dáil. It did not fall to her but she is now the person who will be appointing more people to the board.
The Bill specifically precludes serving officers of the Department of Transport and certain persons who held a position in the Department for a previous five-year period from being eligible for appointment to the board. Can we expect a number of people who have been six years out of the Department on the board? I ask because that is the Government's tendency. I will return to that point. Can we expect civil servants from other Departments to be appointed? I ask because they are impartial civil servants. However, they are not really impartial, are they? If they have been part of the State apparatus for so long of course every inkling in their body is to defend the State at all costs and to take the approach that we will go to the European Court of Justice if we must but by God we will not ever admit we did anything wrong. That is a problem and one far broader than the MICB, although this is a hugely important area. People have lost their lives, relatives have been felt belittled by the Government's response and adequate investigations were not carried out. Deputy Mattie McGrath is not here. I look forward to him coming back to the Dáil. He specifically thanked Michael Kingston, the maritime lawyer and son of Tim Kingston who was killed in the Whiddy Island terminal disaster 40 years ago, and others. Who will appoint these people? Will it be the Public Appointments Service, PAS?
This is not something we should look back on with any great warmth but there was a time when all State boards were packed with former politicians. Now we do not appoint any of them and perhaps that is a good thing. Every State board being packed full of former senior civil servants is not any better. That is what we now have. That is how this State operates. We have senior civil servants who keep their heads down and do not challenge the status quo. Of course, their job is not to challenge the status quo but to serve and defend it while they are in the Civil Service. They are then only a couple of months out of the Civil Service when they are appointed to a beef task force led by a former senior civil servant or some other body made up of all former civil servants. They are people of integrity but the number of former senior civil servants on boards is simply not reflective of society and the various strengths from society on which we can draw to guide important State boards. I do not accept the idea of getting rid of former politicians while ensuring we have many civil servants on these boards. That is not the solution. It does not lead to a good culture within State boards, one conducive to those boards carrying out their duties. It is something the Minister of State's Government needs to look at it.
How much did this case cost to defend, why was it brought and who will now be appointed? Will it be former civil servants from the Department who will be six rather than five years retired, will it be other civil servants or will the Minister of State look for people with relevant experience from across society? That is not what is happening at the moment with regard to various Government appointments. It is not the Minister of State, it is the system and of course she is part of the apparatus.
That is how, unfortunately, our State functions at the moment. It is leading to a certain malaise within the State. It is leading to a State very ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we now face as a society. Obviously, there is the huge challenge posed by Covid-19, which it poses to every state. However, in the longer term - because I remain optimistic Covid-19 will pass and we will move on to other issues - there will be the economic ramifications of Brexit and the economic response to Covid-19, including hyperinflation which looks like a possibility. I am not saying we have anything like hyperinflation at the moment but we are moving into an inflationary period and everybody accepts that. Inflationary periods become hyperinflationary periods very quickly and easily. That leads to a political response, as we have seen through history, one which I am not looking forward to or look forward to my children having to live through.
If it is a case of "round up the usual suspects" and we will put them on a State board, that just will not deliver for this State on where it needs to be and where it needs to get to. I ask the Minister of State to reflect on that and bring it back to Cabinet. We cannot just continue with the usual suspects of former senior civil servants in every possible position. There are, and there needs to be, other skill sets in the country. As we see from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, if it is not former or even serving civil servants, it is people with links to Fine Gael. It is not good enough. How much money did it cost to defend that case that could have been used to make the marine sector in Ireland safer?
This Bill arises from a case taken against Ireland by the EU Commission arising from an incontestable observation that the system for investigating marine accidents in Irish waters was flagrantly lacking in independence and grossly under-resourced. Ireland lost the case in July of last year. The heads of this Bill were presented late last year and discussed at the Oireachtas transport committee at the start of 2021. What was presented then is what we have now, which is a minimal piece of housekeeping.
I do not deny that the removal of Marine Survey Office, MSO, representatives, including its chief executive, from the board of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board is necessary. Put simply, in the course of marine casualty investigations, if they are performed thoroughly, promptly and with adequate resources, lapses on the part of the MSO can be uncovered, a body that holds the statutory responsibility for ensuring the seaworthiness of Ireland-flagged vessels, including such things as functioning radio equipment and adequate life-preserving equipment to be used in the event of a sinking. Where such faults are undetected by the MSO in its routine work, or where its enforcement of necessary repairs was lacking and the vessel subsequently sinks, or there is some onboard accident, then the MSO, alongside the vessel owners, has a case to answer. It is patently obvious that the MSO, through its chief executive, should never have had any oversight of accident reports.
I will refer Members to the intervention made by maritime safety expert, Michael Kingston, at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks at the start of this year. For those watching this debate who do not know, Michael Kingston also happens to be the son of one of the victims of the Whiddy Island oil terminal disaster of some 40 years ago. He featured very movingly in a recent RTÉ radio documentary about that disaster. At the Oireachtas committee, he gave comprehensive and compelling testimony, backed up by a report he commissioned from Marine Hazard Limited, into the failings of the MCIB, which included whistleblower testimony of improper amendments made to MCIB accident reports to the effect of removing any uncomplimentary references to the MSO. I do not have time to give a full flavour of the Marine Hazard report, which is a devastating takedown of the system that prevails, but the lowlights include instances of accidents that were not investigated; a chickenfeed budget of an average €3,000 to €4,000 spend on investigating accidents, which is a fraction of what is spent on rail and air accident investigations; the absence of a dedicated directly employed staff of inspectors, unlike the rail and air equivalent statutory bodies; and, flowing from all this, massive delays in the delivery of reports.
Michael Kingston correctly made the point that the loss of the case in Europe and the findings of the Marine Hazard report pointed to the need for a radical overhaul of the system of investigating maritime accidents and the proper resourcing of such a body to remedy all the shortcomings. Instead, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, promised in February to commission another report to deal with those issues. He promised that such a report would be finalised and published within three months, in other words, by May. He hired a retired British naval captain, Stephen Clinch, now operating as a maritime safety consultant, to conduct the report. Captain Clinch completed his report and those interested parties who made submissions to him were cautiously optimistic. The report was completed and sent to the Department in July, where it remains unavailable to Members and the wider public. If it had been published, it may have made it very difficult for members of the Government to come to the House with this threadbare Bill. I now ask the Minister of State that the Clinch report is published forthwith so that we might have a real discussion on how we will improve the system of maritime safety in this State.
When some of us raised issues pertaining to the plight of migrant fishers in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ellie Adhamhoff the coast of Castletownbere in March this year, we did not lose sight of the maritime safety implications. I can report to the Minister of State that eight months on from that sinking the two surviving and, at that stage, undocumented Egyptian fishers have still not been contacted by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. That speaks to me of a statutory body that requires more than a mere shuffling of members of its board of management.
I will share time with Deputy Collins. I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on Second Stage of this Bill. The reason we, as a State, are introducing this legislation is because Ireland has had a potentially illegally constituted Marine Casualty Investigation Board for some time. This Bill seeks to rectify the situation following the embarrassing judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union entered against Ireland on 9 July 2020. It is incredible that the European Commission's case against Ireland commenced in 2015 and the Department fought its untenable position for five years instead of putting its hands up and fixing it in 2015. How many millions in legal fees were spent in defending this indefensible position?
We are still not fixing that position. As Deputy O'Rourke said, this Bill is the equivalent of putting a sticking plaster over a gaping hole on the body of our marine investigative system. As other Members have said, it is astonishing to hear that we have an independent aviation investigation unit that spent a fortune in 2019, and one for rail also spending a fortune, yet only €27,000 was spent on investigations in the field of our maritime accidents and incidents. This is an appalling approach. How far would the Rescue 116 investigation have got with such a small amount of money?
As the Minister of State knows, I come from a constituency in County Kerry with a vast coastline and hardworking fishermen all along our coast. I understand from the Marine Hazards Limited report published on 4 January 2021, which was introduced at pre-legislative scrutiny stage, that many accidents where fishermen lost their lives have not been investigated. What sort of system is that? Are fishermen second-class citizens? Are their lives worthless? Are their families, who are hurting and grieving so hard and for so long, to be left in the wilderness without having their situations investigated, as would be the case if this happened in any other sector of life in Ireland?
I understand the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications allowed the Bill to go forward on the condition that a report by Captain Steve Clinch would be furnished to it immediately upon receipt. The committee report states:
The Committee believes that the review is a matter of urgency. The Committee understands that the report is due in July 2021 and expects to receive a copy as soon as it is finalised and will seek to discuss its findings and recommendations shortly thereafter as soon as is practicable.
However, that report has been with the Department for the four months since July and has not been disclosed by it.
As Deputy Carey and others, have said, this Bill simply does not go far enough, as it does not address the fundamental failures of our marine casualty investigation system. The refusal, over the years, to fix these problems has led to multiple unnecessary deaths in the Irish maritime sector and it is happening in the wake of the Rescue 116 report, which highlighted staggering systematic failures by the Department of Transport.
The reality is if one does not investigate marine tragedies correctly, one cannot identify their root causes and cannot save lives going forward, which is the very purpose of international and EU regulations. I also understand that an independent investigations unit based on best practice was recommended in 1998, following an expensive and extensive report, but it did not happen. There was a further report in 2010 by a barrister, Ms Róisín Lacey, which included draft heads of a Bill for an independent investigative unit, but this did not happen and the Lacey report has never been disclosed.
In 2011, we incorrectly transposed an EU directive, leaving the two civil servants on the board and failing to fix the issue of competence. Where are the Department officials in all of this? I understand they were part of Ireland's delegation at the International Maritime Organization that negotiated the international casualties investigative code that formed the basis of the EU directive. They must have known they should not have been on the MCIB. What steps has the Minister of State taken on the accountability of this obvious failure?
This issue comes on the back of the incredible failures of the Department in the Rescue 116 situation; the systematic failures that are again being demonstrated here. This Bill needs to go back to committee to be fixed properly and amended totally to implement the recommendations of the Clinch report of July 2021 and the Róisín Lacey draft heads of Bill and report from 2010. To echo Deputy Carey, there needs to be an immediate public inquiry into all of these systematic failures. Too many lives have been lost in our maritime community and our precious rescue services because of these failures.
I recognise and acknowledge the work of Mr. Michael Kingston who is an expert in this field. I remember today an incident that happened many years ago in Whiddy Island, which as the crow flies is very near to where I live in Kilgarvan, County Kerry. The tragedy claimed an awful lot of lives, for which we were very sorry. An awful lot of questions needed to be answered at that time and they were not. Many families were left without their fathers, brothers and husbands and many issues surrounding that tragedy still need to be looked at to bring closure for those families.
I say to all of the people who have been adversely affected by the failings of the Department of Transport, not just now, in the past two years or in the lifetime of this Government, but going back many years and indeed decades, they have been let down. Be they people in the rescue services where lives were lost or those working in the maritime industry, there were many failings and many questions left unanswered. I look to the Minister of State to use this time, her time and this Government's time, to put right the wrongs of the past and to try to rectify the situation.
No more than when we are talking about road deaths in Ireland, it is only right and proper to stand up and say we are so sorry for the families that have been affected. If a family is watching and listening to this, the one thing that has to be shown is respect for the dead. For all of the people who have lost their lives at sea or in rescue missions, we are terribly sorry this has happened and that tragedy befell their families. I think of all of those terribly important people whose lives were cut short because of incidents. Making a living from the sea and working in the maritime industry can be dangerous and hazardous and it is a tough way of life. When things go wrong, they can go horribly and tragically wrong, as has happened. My heartfelt and sincere sympathy to all of those people.
I ask for some of the questions I have raised to be addressed and considered. It is like every job of work in that I am sure there are good people in the Department and while much of what I have said here today might be critical of what has gone on in the past, I have confidence in people for the future to put right the wrongs; to knuckle down to the job of work at hand and to use the expertise in the Department now to try to get this right; to use this opportunity to do it right once and for all and not to be looking back in the future but to look forward with hope that we will get things right.
I again recognise and acknowledge Mr. Michael Kingston and others who have put an awful lot of effort, work, drive, energy and determination into raising the issues and highlighting the wrongs. It looks as though Deputy Michael Collins will not be here. I do not know whether his time can be kept but obviously, it is at the Acting Chairman's discretion.
I thank Deputies for their comments on the Bill. I welcome the engagement on it and the underlying support for an enhanced legislative framework for the investigation of marine casualties in Ireland. Although a relatively short Bill of only 16 sections, it contains important provisions to amend and update the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 and thereby to support the continued independent functioning of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board as the marine investigative body in the State. This is needed, not only in order that we will continue to meet our international and EU obligations to have an independent investigative body in place, but also to ensure the MCIB can continue to carry out its investigative role, establishing the causes of marine casualties and making safety recommendations with the aim of preventing similar casualties occurring in the future.
It is also consistent with one of the core objectives of the Irish Maritime Directorate Strategy 2021-2025 to enhance maritime safety and is an important pillar of our national safety policy. I am confident the Bill will provide a suitable baseline for the future development of marine casualty investigation structures in Ireland. As mentioned in the opening statement on the Bill, there is an urgent need for it to progress. As a consequence of the necessary actions taken to address the findings of the July 2020 CJEU judgment, the MCIB board is currently composed of three members and the existing 2000 Act does not provide a mechanism to fill the vacancies on the board.
The Bill will allow the filling of the vacancies to be progressed. It will facilitate a revised board composition and the appointment of new board members, thus removing the risks associated with a reduced board membership and ensuring quorum requirements for board meetings can be met. It will also ensure there is a specific legislative requirement in the 2000 Act for a marine casualty to be notified to the MCIB directly.
The report of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill noted the importance of the Bill. The committee agreed that the current situation of the quorum for board meetings poses a risk to the functioning of the MCIB and that section 3 of the Bill, which provides for the appointment of an increased number of board members with specific relevant competences and expertise, should ensure the board functions in the short term, while the Department carries out the comprehensive review of the broader framework for marine casualty investigation.
The underlying focus of the operational and technical amendments to the 2000 Act contained in the Bill is to support the functioning of the MCIB.
The opportunity offered by this Bill's introduction has been taken to update the legislative provisions relating to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS, with a view to providing an enabling framework for the transposition of more recent amendments to the international convention into Irish law. There is an ongoing need for such updates in maritime primary legislation. I am pleased that the Bill affords us this opportunity.
I would like to address some of the main themes of the debate. Deputies O'Rourke, Mac Lochlainn, Cathal Crowe, Martin Kenny and others raised the issue of the review report and the wider review of organisational structures for marine casualty investigation in Ireland and the publication of the Clinchmaritime Limited report on the matter. In March 2021, Clinchmaritime Limited was asked to assess the current organisational structures and set out any recommendations, including related to change, to achieve the most appropriate and effective marine casualty investigation structures for Ireland, taking into account national, EU and international obligations. A public consultation on the matter was also carried out between late March and mid-May of 2021. All submissions received were forwarded to Clinchmaritime Limited in order to form input into the review. The contents of the report from Clinchmaritime Limited are being considered in my Department, and officials continue to engage with the Office of the Attorney General to obtain legal advice on certain aspects of the report. This advice will inform the publication of the report. It is therefore not possible to comment further on the report or its publication at this stage. It is envisaged that policy proposals to address recommendations from the overall review process will be developed. As indicated previously, this may lead to proposals for further legislative change. This Bill is the start of a process but it is an urgent and necessary first step.
A number of Deputies raised the issue of funding for the MCIB. It is funded by the Department of Transport's Vote, with money voted by the Oireachtas. In recent years, €402,000 has been allocated but the full amount has not been drawn down by the MCIB. Given the nature of the work of the MCIB, funding requirements can vary from year to year. All funding requests from the board to carry out its work programme have been met. In the context of the general review of the organisational structures relating to marine casualty investigation in Ireland, the funding structures and requirements of the marine casualty investigation body may be subject to revision in the future. The existing board comprises highly qualified and experienced individuals. The members have extensive, wide-ranging experience, including in litigation, regulatory law, marine engineering, and accident investigation.
Deputies Berry and McNamara raised the issue of new board members and how they will be found in the interim. In normal circumstances, the standard system for board appointments uses the Public Appointments Service and an advertising campaign on its website to fill vacancies on the board. It is open to suitably qualified persons to apply for consideration for appointment. If the Bill is enacted, there would be an immediate need to fill board vacancies and, in particular, to ensure that the quorum requirements for board meetings are met. Section 9 of the Act provides the Minister with power to appoint members, which may be utilised to ensure the continued functioning of a marine casualty investigation body in Ireland. Section 3 of the Bill sets out an amendment to section 9 of the Act relating to the knowledge and experience required for consideration as an appointee to the board, inter alia, accident investigation, marine engineering, nautical science or navigation, naval architecture, maritime law and regulation, and health and safety management.
Notwithstanding the normal practice for the appointment of persons to State bodies as outlined above, the ultimate power to make MCIB appointments rests with the Minister for Transport under the provisions of the 2000 Act. The ministerial power overrides any conflict with the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies of 2016, and could be used in the event that the Minister needs to quickly and decisively to make an urgent appointment to ensure that the MCIB continues to operate and to meet its statutory mandate. It must be noted, however, that it is intended to utilise the expert experience of the Public Appointments Service to fill all board vacancies that arise routinely.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised issue in respect of the CJEU. In any scenario such as this, serious consideration has to be given to a legal strategy that weighs up all the appropriate factors with legal advice. There is never any certainty with legal proceedings. There was an arguable case in response to the proceedings taken by the Commission. At the time, the decision to defend was an appropriate and reasonable course of action. All key decisions relating to the MCIB infringement case were made following receipt of legal advice and with the approval of the Attorney General and the Minister for the final decision to defend the case at the CJEU.
Deputy McNamara and others raised the issue of the cost of the CJEU defence. There were no immediate costs or fines for Ireland arising from the CJEU judgment of 9 July 2020. Fines were not imposed as a consequence of the judgment, since the proceedings were brought under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The general principle is that the party that loses a case bears the cost. However, the practice in these cases is that neither the European Commission nor the member state, which is Ireland in this instance, ever actually seek their costs. It is therefore a notional concept. Costs related to the defence of the case arose from the preparation and receipt of counsel opinion at each stage of the process and from meetings and consultations with counsel. These costs are met by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor does not bill Departments for its services, so the only costs that can be quantified are those paid to counsel. Other costs arising from the involvement of the Department of Transport, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor's staff in the case were met as part of the normal salary costs of individual staff members.
While I have the opportunity, I want to clarify some issues regarding the CJEU judgment. The specific finding of the judgment related to the presence of two Department of Transport officials on the five-person board of the MCIB, who were seen as persons whose interests could conflict with a task entrusted to the MCIB. There was no claim by the Commission that the MCIB lacked independence with regard to its legal structure and there was no court finding of partiality or wrongdoing by any member of the board. Notwithstanding suggestions to the contrary from some quarters, the CJEU judgment contains no adverse findings regarding the competence of the MCIB or of individual members and this issue has not formed part of any interactions between the European Commission and my Department, either before or since the court case.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised allegations made regarding certain board members. This is a matter for An Garda Síochána. I am advised that An Garda Síochána wrote to the chair of the MCIB on 21 June 2021 to confirm that a thorough examination of certain allegations made had been conducted and that no criminality was identified. The matter has been closed by An Garda Síochána.
I reassure Deputies that a comprehensive framework and programme are in place within the Department of Transport to oversee and review the legislative structures that apply to the maritime area. This includes a detailed legislative programme document, which is reviewed and updated regularly, having regard to developments at an EU and international level, as well as domestic requirements, priorities and available resources. The extensive maritime legislative programme addresses issues relating to merchant shipping, fishing, passenger vessels and recreational craft, as well as maritime safety and marine environment ship-source pollution prevention. Consolidation and review of the Merchant Shipping Acts has been an important goal of the Irish maritime directorate. As part of the current process, my Department has engaged with the Law Reform Commission, and received specific training on its software to enable officials to directly prepare consolidated texts of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952 and the Merchant Shipping Act 1992. These texts have been finalised by the Department, reviewed by the Law Reform Commission, and published on the Law Reform Commission's website in 2021.
I must clarify that the Lacey report of 2010 was not a report about the independence of the MCIB. The terms of reference asked that the then air, marine, and rail accident investigation legislation be examined, with a view to providing a report to the then Minister for Transport on legislative proposals on the possible amalgamation of the three existing units into a single office, a national multimodal accident investigation office. In the context of looking at wider structural issues as part of the review of marine casualty investigations in Ireland, this matter may well be considered.
I reiterate that this Bill is a necessary step to amend the legislative framework surrounding the MCIB and to support the continued functioning of the marine investigative body in the immediate term. I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate on the Bill and I look forward to further interaction on this important legislation on Committee Stage.